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by Peter Knegt
November 21, 2011 12:59 PM
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For Your Consideration: 10 Incredible Documentaries That Weren't Nominated For An Oscar

Steve James's "The Interrupters."
Last week the Academy offered up their annual dose of documentary-related controversy with the shortlist for their best documentary feature category.

While many quality docs were indeed included - from "Project Nim" and "Hell and Back Again" to "Pina" and "We Were Here" - an astonishing (or maybe not so, considering their history) list of acclaimed docs didn't make the cut.

Where were Clio Barnard's "The Arbor," Steve James' "The Interrupters," Werner Herzog's "Into The Abyss," Patricio Guzmán's "Nostalgia For The Light," Leonard Retel Helmrich's "Position Among The Stars," Asif Kapadia's "Senna," and Errol Morris' "Tabloid"? Just to name a few examples, they were all nowhere to be found.

Perhaps the filmmakers within that group can take some comfort in the fact that they're in very good company.  Some of - if not most of - the greatest documentaries of all time were not

So let's take a trip down unfortunate memory lane, shall we? If only to provide solace to the Asif Kapadia's and Steve James's out there (and also check out our updated Oscar predictions here, including in the documentary category).

The Worst Snubs In Oscar's Best Documentary Category

  • 1 of 7

    "Salesman" (1968), "Gimme Shelter" (1970) and "Grey Gardens" (1976)

    Despite often being considering among the greatest documentarians ever, Albert and David Maysles never won an Oscar. And they only got one nomination: For best documentary short with "Christo's Valley Curtain" in 1974 (they lost to something called "Princeton: A Search for Answers"). But never in the feature category for any of their classic works, including "Salesman" (1968), "Gimme Shelter" (1970) and "Grey Gardens "(1976).
  • 2 of 7

    "The Thin Blue Line" (1988)

    Errol Morris's "The Thin Blue Line" depicts the story of Randall Dale Adams, a man convicted and sentenced to die for a murder he did not commit. While the film was good enough to influence Adams' case being reviewed (he was released from prison approximately a year after the film's release), it wasn't good enough for an Oscar nomination.
  • 3 of 7

    "Roger & Me" (1989)

    Michael Moore's breakthrough documentary - a sizable box office hit, taking in $6,706,368 in 1989 dollars - failed to receive a nomination from the Academy. Though Moore would eventually receive a nomination and win 13 years later with "Bowling For Columbine."
  • 4 of 7

    "Hoop Dreams" (1994)

    In perhaps the most controversial snub ever, the Academy failed to shortlist Steve James' 1994 basketball doc "Hoop Dreams." According to Roger Ebert, reliable sources said members of the Academy's documentary nomination committee had a system in which one would wave a flashlight on screen when they gave up on the film. When a majority of the lights flashed, the film was turned off. Hoop Dreams didn’t even make it to 20 minutes. When the film was not nominated, public outcry led to a revised nomination process in the category.
  • 5 of 7

    "Crumb" (1994)

    The same year that "Hoop Dreams" failed to make the cut, Terry Zwigoff's intensely acclaimed documentary about underground comic artist Robert Crumb failed to do as well (and played a similar role in the public outcry that resulted). Zwigoff has since said in an interview: "The Academy Award thing had much more to do with the fact that at the time, a lot of the documentary membership was made up of distributors of documentary films. The rules have changed since then. But they would just vote for the films they distributed because it was in their financial interest to do so... I just assumed they were disgusted with the film."
  • 6 of 7

    "Grizzly Man" (2005)

    Though things notably improved in the category post-1994, the Academy has still continued to make stupid decisions. Case in point was in 2005 when Werner Herzog's "Grizzly Man" - like his "Into The Abyss" this year - failed to even make the short list. The film's exclusion was later revealed to be the result of an Academy rule disqualifying documentary films that are constructed entirely out of archive footage. However, "Grizzly Man" included new interviews and other footage shot exclusively for the film.
  • 7 of 7

    "The Oath" and "Last Train Home" (2010)

    While last year ended up with an impressively worthy batch of nominees that included "Exit Through The Gift Shop" and "Restrepo," it was not without major omissions. "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work," "12th and Delaware," "Armadillo," "La Danse," "A Film Unfinished" and Werner Herzog's 3-D "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" all didn't make the 15-film shortlist. Though perhaps most unfortunate snubs were Laura Poitras' "The Oath" and Lixin Fan's "Last Train Home," which many considered to be the best documentaries of the year. Both of which could have enjoyed a boost from the Academy, but unfortunately neither got that chance.

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6 Comments

  • Nath | November 25, 2011 5:45 PMReply

    Didn't ever really get "Senna" being a serious Oscar favourite. Felt more a good campaign from Universal/Working Title. After all it's a 100% archive doc on a sports personality who has already been very well documented where as most of the amazing documentary films around this year are original stories with filmmakers crafting in the field for sometimes years. For some reason the film also gushes over Senna rather than be objective. This gives a one dimentional view. We all know Senna also had a darker side and well documented shady business dealings. Prost is portrayed to be a cardboard pantomime villain. The producers saying that being snubbed by the Academy "was like a knife in the heart" sounds on the presumtious side that it was Oscar worthy and already in the bag.

  • CHARLIE ALLNUT | November 25, 2011 12:49 PMReply

    @Dale.

    Although I agree Touching the Void was a good documentary that deserved a Academy nomination I hardly think we can assign it "BEST documentary EVER made". Let's calm down.

    And, Michael Winterbottom's SEMI-documentary "In This World" should have won the BAFTA Korda category that year

  • Nickie | November 22, 2011 8:03 PMReply

    HBO's "Marathon Boy" is the most incredible documentary I've seen this year. Unfolded like a tight thriller centring around a remarkable small slum boy. Was totally amazed that it missed the cut but guess it's in good company.

  • Peter Knegt | November 21, 2011 3:05 PMReply

    Dale: I totally agree re: TOUCHING THE VOID. It slipped my mind somehow. Consider it honorarily included?

  • dale doback | November 21, 2011 2:58 PMReply

    TOUCHING THE VOID was one of the best documentaries ever made yet even you totally ignore it - because of "re-enactments" - ridiculous

  • sharon | November 21, 2011 1:26 PMReply

    i love documentaries.peter,you do a great job.by the way PINA i'ts awesome!!!!